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Pikoli tells of Mabandla order

2008-05-08 21:23

Johannesburg - Suspended prosecuting head Vusi Pikoli considered "unconstitutional" an instruction by Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla not to pursue warrants of arrest for Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi.

This was evidence on Thursday in the Ginwala inquiry's public hearing into the fitness of Pikoli to serve as national director of public prosecutions.

Pikoli claims his suspension in September last year was intended to "put a spoke in the wheel" of his investigation into Selebi, who has since been charged with corruption and taken a leave of absence.

Under cross-examination, justice department director-general Menzi Simelane was told that in a letter on September 18, Mabandla instructed Pikoli not to proceed with the Selebi matter until she was satisfied his course of action was in the public interest.

"I must be satisfied that indeed the public interest will be served should you go ahead with the intended course of action.

Refused to comply

"Until I have satisfied myself that sufficient evidence exists (for the arrest and charging of Selebi), you shall not pursue the route that you have taken steps to pursue," Pikoli's lawyer Wim Trengove read from the letter.

Simelane agreed that Pikoli had refused to comply with that instruction.

Trengove told him that Pikoli had viewed it as an attempt to interfere with him in the execution of his duties.

"That is an arrogation of a constitutional function that belongs to Mr Pikoli. Correct?" asked Trengove.

Simelane explained that Mabandla needed to know how Pikoli had arrived at his decision because she needed to give President Thabo Mbeki a report and considered the matter one of national security.

Simelane acknowledged that he had drafted an application to have the Selebi warrants cancelled and had given this to acting head of the NDPP Mokotedi Mpshe, who said he would consider it.

The arrest warrant was subsequently cancelled.

Trengove put it to him that an honest preparation of the government's papers would have disclosed the letter - written four days before Pikoli's suspension - and his refusal to obey an "unlawful" instruction.

Mbeki suspended Pikoli because he posed a "threat to national security", his lawyers revealed on Thursday, in releasing his suspension letter to Sapa.

'Threat to national security'

Mbeki wrote : "I have evaluated the information at my disposal and have reached the conclusion that you, in your capacity as national director of public prosecutions, have failed to appreciate the nature and extent of the threat posed by members of organised crime syndicates to our national security.

"Such a lack of appreciation in itself amounts to a threat to our national security."

Mbeki also warned Pikoli that plea bargaining and immunity arrangements could not be done "at the expense of our national security".

"Organised crime poses a serious threat to our national security. While I accept that the prosecuting authority has the discretion to enter into plea bargains and or immunity arrangements, the public must always be considered.

"Accordingly, in determining what is in the public interest, before exercising such discretion, the prosecuting authority must necessarily have regard to the totality of information available to the state."

Only in the third-last paragraph does Mbeki refer to the breakdown in the relationship between Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla and his office "due to several incidents".

Deal with Agliotti

"Accordingly, this letter serves to inform you that I... have decided to suspend you from office with immediate effect. You will continue to receive your full benefits during the period of suspension," wrote Mbeki.

The Scorpions late last year made a deal with Glen Agliotti - a close friend of suspended police chief Jackie Selebi, who has also been accused of the murder of businessman Brett Kebble.

He pleaded guilty to drug dealing in a special plea and sentencing agreement, and in return he agreed to testify against syndicates importing and exporting drugs.

The hearing continues on Friday.